RCT Evaluation of Helping Handwriting Shine

Project code: EEFH

Helping Handwriting Shine focuses on improving crucial elements of fine motor skills in order to develop children’s handwriting fluency. In so doing, it aims to increase children’s capacity to develop writing composition, and to improve children’s writing attainment overall. Members of school staff are trained to deliver the programme to all Year 2 and selected Year 5 pupils; they then deliver the programme to pupils, which consist of three 30-minute sessions per week for eight weeks, over Autumn 2018 - Spring 2019. Sessions include a selection of engaging activities and approaches to support children’s handwriting (including body-position, pattern formation, stylus grip, and breathing). Training materials provided by the programme offer guidance on how sessions can be adapted to support pupil interest and motivation, and to mirror curriculum themes.

What are the trial aims?

The programme is being evaluated through a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to explore the impact on children’s overall writing, handwriting speed, and writing composition. The evaluation will also investigate how the sessions are delivered, and teachers’ and children’s views on the programme and the support provided.

Who is conducting the trial?

The Education Trials Unit at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is conducting the trial. The University of Leeds is providing the training and support to schools for the Helping Handwriting Shine intervention. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is funding the trial. The NFER has subcontracted No More Marking to provide test outcomes.

What will the trial involve for schools?

In Spring/Summer 2018, all schools will need to provide pupil lists/IDs for all current Year 1 pupils; Year 1 pupils will then need to complete baseline tests, and the school completes a short pro-forma. Schools will then be randomly allocated to either the intervention group (who receive the programme) or the control group (who do not receive the programme).

In Autumn 2018, Intervention schools select Year 5 pupils to take part in the intervention. Between 4 and 16 pupils should be selected depending on the school’s size and needs.  Schools provide pupil lists/IDs for selected pupils, who then complete the same baseline test as the Year 2 classes; they will then be randomised so that half of the group receive the intervention and half do not.

Intervention schools will then book a minimum of two identified members of staff onto a half-day training session, which will be held locally to the school, paying a discounted rate of £500 per school to receive the training and materials. Schools will then commence the 8-week programme, split into two four week sessions either side of the Christmas holidays. Intervention schools will need to complete a weekly record about the sessions; and be willing to take part in observations and interviews if invited. On completion of the eight week programme there will be a number of tasks and activities for pupils before follow-up tests are carried out in Summer 2019.

Control schools will not receive the handwriting intervention, but will need to complete a records about any handwriting support they provide in their schools during the trial period. Control schools may also be invited to take part in interviews and observations, and will be required to complete the follow-up test in June/July 2019. Control schools will receive a contribution of £500 on completion of the follow-up tests.

In Summer 2019, NFER test administrators will then support all schools to complete follow-up tests with all pupils in the trial. This includes all selected Year 5 pupils selected to take part within the intervention schools, whether or not they have received the intervention.

Which schools, staff and pupils will be involved?

The trial will involve around 100 primary schools across Leeds, Bradford and North East England. The trial is for all Year 2 pupils (with the intervention delivered to all Year 2 whole classes in the school), and also for small groups of targeted Year 5 pupils in intervention schools in need of handwriting support, where slow and effortful handwriting is interfering with their ability to communicate with others.

The school must identify a minimum of two members of staff to be trained and deliver the intervention. The members of staff need not necessarily be teachers; where more appropriate they may be, for example, members of senior leadership, SENCOs, teaching assistants or occupational therapists. This may be particularly important for Year 5, where delivery of the intervention may happen separately to normal teaching.

Each school will also need to provide a named school contact for the duration of the trial. This person will act as the single point of contact between the school and the developers and evaluators of the trial and could be a class teacher, teaching assistant, SENCO or a member of the leadership team. The named contact will ensure the return of baseline assessments, ensure the number of sessions are delivered in the way prescribed and that the logs are completed and returned for evaluation. The contact will also be responsible for liaising with NFER in Summer 2019 for the administration of the follow-up tests.

Timetable of Activities for Schools



March - May 2018

All schools

Sign-up to take part in the trial

  • Return reply form and signed Memorandum of Understanding to NFER in the pre-paid envelope
  • Schools take a copy of the MoU to keep for their records
  • Schools provide NFER with class list of all current Y1 pupils (Y2 2018/19).
  • Schools write to parents to let them know the school is participating in the intervention

June / July 2018

All schools

Pupil baseline writing assessments for all pupils in Y1

  • A test consisting of two tasks:
    • Writing Assessment Measure – 20 minutes
    • Handwriting speed test – 3 minutes
  • Schools will receive prepopulated papers via secure courier from NFER. Once the test is completed schools can arrange for pre-paid courier to collect completed test papers and return to NFER, who will organise for them to be marked through standard mark schemes and also a comparative judgement approach.
  • Proforma about existing and intended handwriting provision for Y2 and target Y5 pupils to be completed.

Only when a school has completed all the above steps have they completed the sign up process. At this point schools will receive a confirmation email from NFER confirming that their school will go forward to randomisation.

July 2018

All schools

Schools randomly allocated to the intervention or control group.

  • Schools will receive an email during the week commencing the 16th of July confirming which group they have been allocated to and what the next steps will be.
  • For schools allocated to the intervention group they will be asked to provide the pupil lists for the identified Y4 (Y5 2018/19) pupils.

September 2018

Intervention schools

Schools provide final lists of identified Y5 pupils

  • All identified Y5 pupils then complete the baseline test and tests are returned to NFER.
  • Y5 pupils randomised in each school with half to receive the intervention and half to continue as normal.

October 2018 Intervention schools

Schools book and attend training sessions

  • Schools book onto training sessions, paying £500 per school.
  • Sessions will be run at local centres across Leeds, Bradford and two locations in the North East, to be confirmed.
  • A minimum of two members of staff must attend, who may be teachers, senior leadership, SENCOs, teaching assistant, occupational therapists, etc.
  • Schools are asked to cover travel costs and staff cover costs for these events.
  • These training sessions will be observed by the NFER evaluation team.

Nov 2018 – Feb 2019

Intervention schools

Schools deliver the programme

  • Programme delivery to Y2 (whole class/es) and selected Y5
  • Staff complete online logs which outline what sessions have taken place and which pupils attended.
  • Further training and support provided.
  • Observations in some schools.

Spring term 2019
Control schools Intervention schools

Control schools complete ‘Business as Usual’ logs

Intervention schools embed approaches

  • Some intervention schools take part in interviews and observations
  • Staff complete online logs
  • Complete follow up tasks to embed approaches

Summer 2019
ALL Schools

Pupil follow-up tests

  • All Y2 – both control and intervention
  • Selected Y5 pupils – intervention schools
  • Administered by NFER test administrators

How will schools benefit from taking part?

All schools in the trial will contribute to the evidence-base on what works in supporting handwriting and writing in primary schools. Schools allocated to the intervention group will have the opportunity to receive discounted training and support on the Helping Handwriting Shine intervention. Schools will also receive feedback on relative pupil performance in both sets of tests.

Do schools have to take part?

Helping Handwriting Shine is available only as part of the trial during 2018/19. Schools only have to take part if they wish to do so. Pupils can opt out of taking part at any time. However, all data is important to the trial, and the NFER and the University of Leeds really appreciate schools’ support in providing pupil tests data for the trial.

How will NFER and partners use and protect the data collected?

For information on how the parties involved in this research will gather, use and protect data, please refer to the Privacy Statement for the Evaluation of Helping Handwriting Shine, available here.

How will the findings be used?

The findings from the project will be freely available on NFER’s and EEF’s website. They will be used to inform the education sector about improving writing in primary schools.

Who can I contact for more information?

Who to contact



Gemma Stone/Pippa Lord, NFER

For queries about the trial

01904 567647


Jishi Jose, NFER

For queries about signing up and providing data

01753 637205


University of Leeds
Project Team

For queries aboutabout the Helping Handwriting Shine Programme